Pastor Michael W. Waters Speaks at APU about Race, Faith, and Hope

by Logan Cain

Chaos and shock pervaded the emergency room as 16 police officers and civilians were wheeled into Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas, on Monday night, July 11, 2016. The shooting occurred at the end of a peaceful protest against the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, which had made national headlines and sparked controversy about law enforcement and race relations. Five officers lost their lives that night in the deadliest incident for law enforcement since September 11, 2001.

Called upon to speak words of encouragement to the overwhelmed hospital staff as they prepared to attend to the injured, Michael W. Waters, founding pastor of Joy Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, shared a simple, yet profound truth. “Although there are individuals, like the shooter tonight, who want to tear us apart, there are many more, like you, who want to heal us and bring us together,” he said.

Waters brought his message of racial reconciliation to Azusa Pacific University on Thurs., Jan. 12, as a guest speaker hosted by the School of Theology, the Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence, and the Student Center for Reconciliation and Diversity. "Michael Waters is an honest voice in a country looking for hope,” said Robert Duke, Ph.D., dean of the School of Theology and Azusa Pacific Seminary and professor in the Department of Biblical and Religious Studies.

The author of Freestyle: Reflections on Faith, Family, Justice, and Pop Culture, which inspires national and international audiences through words of empowerment, Waters discussed his new book Stakes is High: Race, Faith, and Hope for America. “There are more hope-bearers than hope-destroyers,” he said. “It’s time to put our combined faith into action.” Waters stressed that while racial tensions in America remain prevalent, hope amidst chaos can be generated into positive action.

Waters is a leading social commentator, community activist, professor, and pastor. He was named the Center for Theological Activism’s 2015 Pastor of the Year, listed among the Dallas Business Journal’s 2015 “40 Under 40,” and received the White House’s Presidential Youth Service Award, the B’nai B’rith’s Harold M. Kaufman Memorial Award in Social Ethics, and the William K. McElvaney Award in Peace and Justice. Waters is the son of APU’s Kenneth Waters, Ph.D., associate dean of the School of Theology, acting chair and professor in the Department of Biblical and Religious Studies, and associate chaplain. “Pastor Michael Waters’ life experience, biblical research, and legacy of social justice are needed, not only from the pulpit but also in the classroom and across this country,” said Aaron Hinojosa, executive director for the Student Center for Reconciliation and Diversity.

Inspired by generations of family members before him, Waters works toward a future where race reconciliation is possible. “I asked myself, ‘What world do I want for my kids?’ After that, I could no longer stand by the sidelines,” he said.

Waters suggests that the hip-hop genre of music is an anthem of social action. During the APU forum, he featured rap artist Steve “Big Tat” Richardson in a live performance, who sang, “I came from a poor family. We didn’t have much. But the Lord been good to me.” Waters used Richardson’s song to demonstrate how hip-hop contextualizes Scriptural truth. He also had attendees close their eyes and listen to the song “Stakes is High” by De La Soul, after which his book is named. Waters referred to the impulsive urgency in the song’s beat. “It compels us to get involved,” he said.

In his closing, Waters heartened APU to continue following the footsteps of the staff at Parkland Memorial Hospital, tirelessly uniting our communities in a movement toward healing and love.

Logan Cain '18 is a public relations intern in the Office of University Relations. He is a biblical studies and humanities major in the Honors College.